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Fire victim autopsy inconclusive

Jan 07 2012

Forensic investigators will have to rely on dental records to determine if a body found inside a burned-out trailer on the Cowichan Reserve is that of 20-year-old Crystal Joe, after an autopsy proved to be inconclusive.

Crystal is believed to be the victim of the New Year's Day blaze, but her family is holding out hope that she has simply disappeared.

"It's a waiting game right now," said family spokeswoman Char La Fortune, a close friend of Joe's parents, Abraham and Debbie Joe.

If dental records do not produce a result, forensic pathologists will examine DNA samples.

Crystal lived in the trailer with her boyfriend, who La Fortune knew only by his first name, Anthony.

Anthony told Crystal's family there was a party in the trailer on New Year's Eve and he left Joe there about 4: 30 a.m.

"He says he just left her there, he didn't say anything about whether she was sleeping," La Fortune said.

Crystal had a rocky relationship with her parents and struggled with substance abuse, which sometimes led her to disappear for three weeks at a time without contact, La Fortune said. "There is always hope that she did go somewhere else," she said.

Fire investigators and North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP are investigating the cause of the fire. They have not said whether it was suspicious or accidental.

La Fortune said she sits with the family every day and Crystal's parents aren't paying attention to news coverage of the death.

"The family needs their time alone," La Fortune said. Abraham, 82, is one of the tribal elders. La Fortune said she is worried about how the stress is affecting him.

Abraham lost two grandchildren, Marisa Justina Thomas, nine, and Troy Brandon Joe, five, in a fire on the reserve in October 2006.

On Thursday, the Office of the Fire Commissioner and Coroners Service gave warning that people have a higher chance of dying in a fire in mobile homes because of their cramped quarters, limited escape mechanisms and flammable building materials.

"We haven't talked about that at all," La Fortune said. "Right now, we're basically there for the family."

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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